Steven Fletcher gets £12m move but Scotland hopes vanish

AS CRAIG Levein declared himself “very confident” Scotland will qualify for their first World Cup since 1998, the national team manager last night shut the door on any potential invite to the most expensive player the country has produced – Steven Fletcher.

• Steven Fletcher signs for Sunderland for £12m

• Former Hibernian striker could feature tomorrow

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Levein insisted he will not rush his captain Darren Fletcher back into the fold despite being encouraged by the midfielder’s recent return to action.

Levein is still unhappy about the 25-year-old former Hibernian, Burnley and Wolverhampton striker refusing to play for his country against Northern Ireland last year.

“The door is closed on Steven,” said Levein, who was speaking at the Vauxhall Road to Brazil 2014 media conference in London. “I spoke about Darren Fletcher and his desire to play for Scotland, and all he [Steven Fletcher] needed to do was send a text or make a phone call to play for his country. He didn’t do it so as far as I am concerned the door is closed and we will move on without him.”

Levein is bullish that Scotland can get through a tricky group and qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Should they do so it will be the first time since France ‘98 that they have qualified for a major international tournament. “I am very confident. This is the strongest squad I’ve had for a while so we are ready to go,” Levein said.

“The reason I took the job is to qualify for a major competition. I was fortunate to play in Italia ‘90 so having experienced that, it is in my head that I want to qualify with Scotland as the manager There is no bigger incentive for any Scotsman than that.”

The Scots have, however, been hit by an injury crisis ahead of their opening double header against Serbia on 8 September and Macedonia on 11 September. Levein admitted that first-choice goalkeeper Allan McGregor and his back-up Craig Gordon are unlikely to figure in next month’s double-header.

McGregor suffered a groin injury and is unlikely to be fit while Gordon is without a club having been released by Sunderland and will therefore not be included in Levein’s squad. The Scotland manager is likely to turn to Cardiff’s David Marshall or Blackpool’s Matt Gilks, who made his debut against Australia. “One of Marshall or Gilks will play in the opening two games unless Allan makes a miraculous recovery,” Levein said. “I spoke to Allan this morning. There has been some improvement in his condition.

“If you asked me last week whether he would have been involved, I would have said yes, but now I am unsure. As for Craig it would be hard for very difficult for him to come in and play when he hasn’t got a club.”

Darren Fletcher’s condition also remains a concern. The Manchester United midfielder’s future in football was thrown in to doubt in December when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition.

Fletcher has been making a steady recovery from the illness, however, and made his return to action ten days ago when he came off the substitutes’ bench in a benefit match for Aberdeen’s Neil Simpson.